Press Release: Access to justice for women survivors must continue during pandemic, affirm protection and justice sector representatives

Date: Monday, November 30, 2020

Photo symbol. Credit: UN Women

Around 100 representatives from the protection and justice sectors of the Western Balkans and Turkey, including the police, judges, prosecutors, social workers and lawyers, discussed how to improve the protection and justice sector’s response to violence against women, especially during crises.  

November 30 – Around 100 representatives from institutions involved in the protection systems of the Western Balkans and Turkey discussed how to improve the justice sector’s response to violence against women especially in times of crisis in a two-day high level regional conference “Access to justice for women victims and survivors of violence in the Western Balkans and Turkey in times of COVID-19.”

The event brought together members of the police, judiciary, prosecution, social services, lawyers, paralegals and community justice workers from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo*, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey who have worked over the past 20 months on identifying gaps in the system of protection of women survivors of violence and developing recommendations for their elimination.

“While much progress has been made, significant gaps remain in the protection system for women survivors of violence, especially in times of crisis that we are living now. This conference offers a unique space to exchange experiences and learn how to find ways to overcome these obstacles in the protection system,” stated Liselotte Isaksson, Head of Civil Society and Social Inclusion, Directorate-General for Neighborhood and Enlargement Negotiations for Western Balkans of the European Commission. 

Blerta Cela, UN Women Deputy Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia said: “We need to work collectively to bring change and uphold rights and justice for women survivors of violence. Access to justice is an essential ingredient of gender equality and it cannot be denied to any woman or girl during this time of crisis.”

By showcasing the challenges that institutions in the protection system faced and sharing recommendations and tools, the conference aimed to advance women’s access to protection and justice.

“I would like to thank UN Women and the European Union for recognizing the issues women faced even before the pandemic and for working with us to address women’s needs in times of crises. Our goal is to protect every single woman and girl who is facing violence or is at risk for violence. I am happy to see that you want to continue working on improving access to justice for women survivors of violence in the Western Balkans and Turkey and that this process is not stopped by COVID-19 crisis,” said Meliha Sendić, President of the Center of Women's Rights (CWR).  

The regional conference was built on the findings of the research “Integral Regional Study. Is justice failing women survivors of violence? Action-oriented recommendations for effective prevention, protection and prosecution in the Western Balkans and Turkey,” published by UN Women in May 2020. Researcher and author of the Integral Research, Dženana Radončić, provided an overview of the (mal)functioning of the systems of protection and prosecution covering cases of violence against women in the Western Balkans and Turkey.

“There are many shared issues with the protection systems in the observed countries, and due to similar socio-economic conditions and types of institutions, there is also a lot of space for a common regional approach that would enable an active exchange of best practices among countries,” said the researcher.

Dženana Radončić also presented a set of recommendations that all countries in the Western Balkans and Turkey should undertake in order to improve the protection system for women survivors of violence:

  • Provide a holistic and coordinated approach to protecting women from all forms of violence;
  • Establish clear and effective coordination between all institutional actors in the protection chain;
  • Harmonize the definitions of violence against women as well as different forms of violence against women;
  • Establish a centralized and integrated database that would be functionally linked to all relevant actors in the protection chain;
  • Develop specialized, mandatory and continuous training programmes for all professionals in the security, social protection and justice sectors;
  • Advocate for the development and mandatory application of uniform risk assessment forms in cases of domestic violence;
  • Ensure consistent financial support from state budgets for providers of specialized support services, such as safe houses, helplines, legal aid providers;
  • Address all forms of violence promptly and with due diligence including those which are usually ignored before their escalation, such as verbal, psychological or cyber violence against women.

The abovementioned recommendations, which every country from the region should embrace in order to strengthen the protection system, were also reflected in the documentary series “Justice for Women.“ The series features 14 real, in-depth stories of women victims of violence in the Western Balkans and Turkey who were failed by the justice system.

“When it comes to domestic violence and violence against women, certain weaknesses in the protection system show us, in fact, that we need to make a change. These weaknesses should be addressed with changes according to international standards, and all member states must take measures to prevent violence against women and to protect women,” mentioned researcher Jasminka Džumhur.

The regional conference also marked the official launch of the “Regional Guidelines for Risk Assessment and Risk Management to Prevent Recurrence and Escalation of Violence against Women.” Developed collaboratively with institutions, the document encompasses recommendations at the regulatory and operational level for risk management and will be shared among the countries in the region to be used as a guiding document while providing support to women who have suffered from violence.

The online regional conference "Access to justice for women victims and survivors of violence in the Western Balkans and Turkey in times of COVID-19” was organized by the Center of Women's Rights from Bosnia and Herzegovina within the regional programme on ending violence against women "Implementing Norms, Changing Minds," funded by the European Union.

For more information

Media contact: Victoria Puiu, Communication and visibility specialist, Regional programme “Implementing Norms, Changing Minds”

Email: victoria.puiu@unwomen.org

 


* For the European Union, this designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244/1999 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence. For UN Women, references to Kosovo shall be understood to be in the context of UN Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999).